In the very southern tip of India, amidst the touristic Kanyakumari district, comes a humble initiative to produce world-class products using local bristle coir fibre. The vision is to create a cluster of small local brush makers who utilize local coconut, Palmera nuts and responsibly sourced local wood in creating natural and long-lasting brushes for various uses. This rural innovation can create both livelihoods and development while assuring a sustainable way of using local natural resources.
According to the Human Development Report (HDR) 2020, only one in five Indians in the labour force is “skilled”, while women account for only 19.9% of the total labour force in India. In cooperation with local rural development organizations and government development schemes, the producer engages in skilling of local unskilled workforce with the goal of helping them get better livelihoods. Often there is a focus on training unskilled women from marginalized backgrounds. This helps strengthen women's position in the community by enabling them with work skills, self-accomplishment and creating the ground for them to achieve economic independence.
The producer cannot itself employ all the workers they help skill, however, by encouraging and supporting them in finding local microfinance schemes and other support opportunities available for them, the producer intends to help them create their own production units, thus creating a cluster of small units. For example, by engaging in local women's self-help groups. The women from self-help groups that get training from the producer get better credit opportunities in the local microfinance scheme after the skilling. This helps the marginalised groups get started with their own ventures.
The main raw materials used are coconut, Palmera nut and local wood. The coconut coir is a natural fibre extracted from the outer husk of the coconut after the oil and meat are taken out of the coconuts. This way the whole coconut is used. Similarly, the Palmera nut has an edible fruit inside, while the outer husk gives a hard coir used in scourer brushes. Both coirs are sourced from within 5 km of the main brush making facility. Coconut and Palmera grow in natural abundance in the nearby areas and are a renewable materials as the nuts grow regularly.
The coconut coir is handled by local artisans who follow the natural and traditional methods of retting. The husk is collected from farms, decorticated and soaked in water. They are then processed in mills where the husk is beaten in the machines. Next, they are combed by hand and ready to be delivered and used for brushes.
Timber is bought locally from vendors that get it whenever trees are cut down (for example for a construction project) or when it falls down naturally (for instance, during the monsoons). This means that the timber wood used is subjected to change according to what is available. Jackfruit, mango wood and neem tree are amongst the timber used. They each come with different qualities. To stabilize the quality, linseed oil is used to treat and coat the wood.
Solid quality wood | Easy to use | Smooth surface| Highly durable | Zero plastic | Compostable | 100% naturally processed coir fibre is used
The vision is to create a cluster of small rural brush-making units, however, as of now, the production is happening in the producers main unit in rural Kanyakumari. The process consists of a mix between machine production and handmaking the products. Modern machinery helps create an effective workflow while reducing energy use. Only natural materials are used in the process, and the technique used creates brushes that last for a long time.
The brush making has several steps. First, the wood is shaped into the brush handle. This is done by machine and hand combined. While the handles are being made, the coir is being stacked, cleaned and prepared to be added to the brush. After this, a manually handled brush machine is used to create the holes for the coir to go into and to fix it with small steel pins. This results in long-lasting all-natural brushes.
The sourcing and production is done from the local area only using natural materials. The brushes are made to last for a long time, helping reducing consumption of the consumer. Since only natural materials are used, the brushes could be discarded of in nature without any harm. Additionally, by using renewable coir and responsibly sourced wood, materials that might if not utilized, end up as waste, the local environment is respected and cared for.
UN Sustainable Development Goal
By using only natural materials that can be discarded without any environmental harm as well as responsible sourcing of wood, this project contributes to target 12.5 "By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse"
Most of the workers employed by the producers are young adults and women. They all come from the local area to get skilling and a livelihood. In addition, the producers work together with local rural development organizations and government development schemes to provide training to marginalized groups and support them in finding livelihoods opportunities.
The area is prone to natural disasters, which are likely to increase with climate change. In 2004 a disastrous tsunami hit the region causing massive destruction and many deaths. Building up resilient communities through rural development and livelihood opportunities through economic activities that can withstand natural disasters, is essential in mitigating the consequences of the next natural disaster hitting the community.
UN Sustainable Development Goal
By employing and skilling marginalised groups, and collaborating with local schemes to create livelihoods and build resilience within the local community, this project has contributed to target 8.8, "Protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment"
Livelihoods impact: 17 people from the local villages